As we sit on the precipice of the beginning of a new high school football season, the outlook offers different directions for the Amador Valley and Foothill football teams.
The Dons are now the prohibitive favorites to win the East Bay Athletic League's Valley Division, while the Falcons by virtue of their back-to-back Valley titles, have been sent to the tougher Mountain Division.
As part of the Valley Division, the Dons will join Livermore, Granada, Dublin and Dougherty Valley. In the Mountain, the Falcons will meet San Ramon Valley, Monte Vista, De La Salle, Clayton Valley and California.
Amador went 1-4 in the Mountain last year, with Foothill going 4-0 in the Valley, with a pair of nail-biters, beating Livermore 38-30 and Dublin 28-22.
"There is the level of competition issue," Foothill coach Greg Haubner said regarding the Mountain Division. "We know what we are up against. I have told the kids we are in the deep end of the pool, and we have to learn to swim with the best."
Haubner tried to stay in the Valley, along with Amador and the other Valley teams. It was a great mix of competitive games, and without a doubt, the best for the student athletes.
Amador Valley coach Danny Jones was all for it.
"We voted for Foothill to stay in the Valley," Jones said of the vote of coaches in both divisions that fell one vote short of keeping the Falcons in the Valley. "We are looking forward to next year and being in the Valley with Foothill."
The divisions are set, and non-league games begin this Friday night (Aug. 25) with Amador hosting El Cerrito, and Foothill at home against Heritage.
Both games are set for 7 p.m.
Let's look at both teams as they head into the season.
Business as usual for the Dons this year -- big, strong and fast.
Once again, the offensive line is loaded.
"This is definitely our best position group," Jones said.
Cooper Longmire (6-foot-2, 275 pounds) is a junior and is set at left tackle. Tyler Barhite (6-1, 250) is a senior that will line up next to Longmire.
Granada transfer Paul Ti'a (6-1, 285) is a junior that is the Dons' center, but he has to sit the first five games because of the transfer.
On the right side of the line, Gio Kovacs (6-4, 290) is a senior that will be at right guard, with Villiamu Baker-Kline (6-2, 270) is a junior tackle.
Alex Santana (6-3, 240) and Nathan Albright (5-11, 265) are a pair of seniors that will feature prominently throughout the season on the line, with shuffling going on until Ti'a is eligible.
"They are big and get after it," Jones said.
At Amador, the tight-end spot has always been a big one, both as a receiver and a punishing blocker.
Sophomore McKay Kenitzer (6-2, 185) is penciled in at tight end, but it's more of a three-headed monster with Cole Goldsworthy (6-3, 180), another sophomore, and senior Keaton Lai (6-1, 205) in the mix.
The Dons will arguably have the top quarterback in Jones' tenure with Tristin Ti'a, another transfer from Granada and the cousin of center Paul. And like his cousin, he will have to sit the first five games.
Calling the shots for the first five will be sophomore Aidan Foley (5-11, 170). Foley started for the Amador freshman team last year and was also a member of the Tri-Valley Babe Ruth team that won the World Series in the summer of 2022.
Leading the way at receiver is senior and three-year varsity starter Nate Jetter (6-3, 190). Jetter is a tremendous athlete and will be a tough cover for defensive backs.
Jake Goldsworthy (6-1, 210) is a senior returning starter who will be catching passes out of the slot and the backfield.
Playing both the Z-receiver position, as well as running back, will be sophomore Anthony Harrington (5-9, 170) a player that started for the Amador varsity as a freshman last year.
The fullback will be a load to handle with senior Sean Cervantes (5-10, 180).
"He's a dog -- a stud," Jones said.
The Dons took a big hit when kicker/punter Riley Balch graduated but have found a solution in junior Ethan Lang (5-11, 165). "He's been punting great, and his kickoffs go into the end zone," the coach said of Lang.
On defense, the Dons will be looking for a lot of offensive players to come through.
On the defensive line it starts with Jayden Wood (5-11, 225) and Lai at the defensive ends. Longmire is a tackle and Kovacs lines up over the nose.
The linebackers are athletic and hit like a ton of bricks. Jake Goldsworthy is set as an outside linebacker with Cervantes and Romin Gates (6-0, 205) filling the middle spots. Gabe Gyamfi (6-3, 190) is the other outside linebacker.
The defensive backs are three of the top athletes on the team. Jetter and Harrington are on the corners, and senior Kurtis Thomsen (5-11, 175) is the senior free safety.
On paper the EBAL season sets up better for the Dons than it has the last few seasons, but Jones is having none of it.
"We feel good, and we are motivated," Jones said. "You look around the division and Granada is getting better every year. Dublin and Livermore are always tough. We respect every team in the league. Our goals stay the same -- we have to stay who we are."
The Falcons face not only the promotion to the Mountain, but also face losing their top three position players -- two to transfer and one to injury.
Chris Lawson started for the Falcons when he was a freshman and was dominant at both receiver and defensive back. In fact, he was in the top five players in the EBAL. But now in his junior year, Lawson was one of several high-profile players to transfer to Riordan-San Francisco.
Samear Lattier, a two-starter for the Falcons, was entering his senior campaign and left the school, transferring to Tracy.
Finally, Jackson Chandler, a big-time running back has just not gotten back to healthy after a serious injury.
"You really feel for Jackson," Haubner said. "He's a super-talented player and just a great kid. He really wanted to play."
Despite the losses and the move to the Mountain, count on the Falcons to come into every game ready to battle.
Starting with the offensive line Haubner will look to a trio of players to lead.
Josh Taylor (5-10, 200) is in his third year with the varsity. "He plays fast, sawed-off, and angry," Haubner said.
Jeremey Sousa (5-10, 235) returns at center, with Hayden Howard (6-1, 260) rounding out the top three.
"All of those guys are solid and get it done," Haubner said.
Players like Quinn McCarn (6-0, 215), Laith Saah (6-3, 295) and Dhruv Suri (6-4, 230) -- all seniors -- fill out the line.
"That's a little more size than we traditionally have at Foothill," said Haubner.
At quarterback Haubner will look to three-year starter Erik Olsen (6-4, 200) to lead the skill positions. "He's got one of the biggest arms in the area," Haubner said.
Running back will be a group effort with senior Charlie Stearns (6-1, 210), Andre Armendariz (5-10, 160) and senior Jake Patterson (6-0, 200).
Out wide will be senior Nathan Bodensteiner (6-4, 200) and junior Michael O'Donoghue (5-10, 175).
"It will be tough with the loss of Lawson, but these guys are working hard to pick up the pieces," Haubner said, referring to the two-way star who transferred.
Matt Fields returns as the punter and kicker for the Falcons.
On the defensive side, Howard will be the key for the defensive line. "We've got to keep him gassed up and ready to roll," Haubner said of Howard.
Taylor, Hunter Mutzel (6-1, 210) and Sousa will play major roles on the line.
At linebacker, the Falcons will look to Graham Zander (6-0, 200), Patterson and Brayden Brown (5-11, 190). The defensive backfield looks like it will be Armendariz and O'Donoghue at the corners, with Bodensteiner at free safety. Osmar Calderon, a sophomore, will also factor into the mix.
"We don't have a lot of numbers," Haubner said. "We will have to play slow football, eat the clock and be efficient in how we operate."
Amador Valley varsity schedule
Aug. 25 vs. El Cerrito, 7 p.m.
Sept. 1 at Campolindo, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 at Acalanes, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 vs. Monte Vista, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 vs. Foothill, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 at Novato, 2 p.m.
Oct. 6 vs. Dougherty Valley, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 vs. Livermore, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 20 at Granada, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 27 at Dublin, 7:30 p.m.
Foothill varsity schedule
Aug. 25 vs. Heritage, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 vs. American Canyon, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 at El Cerrito, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 at Amador Valley, 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 vs. Livermore, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 vs. Monte Vista, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 13 at Clayton Valley, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 20 at De La Salle, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 27 vs. San Ramon Valley, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 3 at California, 7 p.m.